(C)  2002-2014 J. Watson       All rights reserved  
Travel Letters
 RV Travel notes from
       the traveling gran'ma and gran'pa
Vol 15  No 2                                                                                                                                                                                              May, 2005
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Big Bend is great for “birding” and Ida added some
new ones to the list of those she’s been able to
identify for the first time.   Those that you see at
varying altitudes are different.  Big Bend’s altitude
ranges from 1,800 feet to over a mile so there is
plenty of variety.  The park was developed right after
WW2 and the remains of ranches that were
abandoned at that time can be visited.  What an
abysmal place to try to ranch.  Ranchers lived in
harsh conditions and would get to town a couple of
times a year to trade.  Obviously they were self-
sufficient and lived a lonely life.  We hiked to a
couple of them and saw the remnants of the adobe
structures, photo.

Ranches were situated near water.  Windmills
pumped water to create private oases.  The pumps
still work and the water attracts animals that inhabit
the area.
Dear Gals… Your guys …
Our grandchildren… and sisters


We’re spending a few days here as a base to tour
the area.  

On the way from Beaumont we re-visited the USS
Texas (BB35).  I get a kick out of this old battleship
as it has some similarities to the USS Arkansas
(BB33), on which I served, that predated it by a few
years.  Both fought in WW1 and WW2.

A few days ago we hit the Johnson Space Center –
you know it also as “Mission Control – Houston”.   
Too much of a playground atmosphere for us but
the kids seemed to like it, though we’re not sure
they understand the significance of the place.  The
emphasis, of course, is on the manned space
missions to the moon – certainly before most of the
people touring the center can remember.  They
must consider much of the space effort as far, far
in the past, just as we think of WW1, which was
less than ten years before we were born.  

The tour includes entry to the VIP viewing area of
the mission control center plus the gallery
overseeing the simulation area where the
astronauts train for future flights.  Both are
impressive.  There is also a display of space suits
used in missions as well as a sample of moon
rocks – we both have touched a rock from the
moon.  A display of the living area of the upcoming
space station clearly described difficulties of
sleeping and eating in a gravity-free environment.  

Still in a military frame of mind we went to Corpus
Christi to visit the USS Lexington, a WW2 aircraft
carrier.  That Saturday morning, the place
swarmed with Scouts with sleeping bags preparing
to stay overnight.  Planes were lashed to the flight
deck.  Open areas included the Navigation Bridge,
engine room, as well as the living quarters.  The
“Japs” claimed to have sunk it three times. The
hanger deck is so large there're two movie theatres
and enough space left over for a football field.  

At the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge we did see
a variety of birds, but unfortunately were too late in
the season to see the Whooping Cranes who
spend the winter there.  This is a large refuge on
the Gulf coast about forty miles north of Corpus
Christi that attracts dozens of these endangered
birds.  You may recall reading of the ultra-light that
leads a flock to teach them about winter migration.  
They stand over five feet tall and there are only
about 200 in the world.  

Looking at the photos, so far, I guess this letter
gets an “R” rating for violence – two warships and
an alligator.  Will try to fix that.
Crafts were important and remains of pottery as
well as woven pieces made of cotton and fibers of
other local plants have been found in reasonably
good condition.  It is so dry that things did not
decay or rot as they might in a damp environment.

You’d especially enjoy the ride up to Tonto National
Monument.  There are miles and miles of
mountains, one grade is 9% and is nine miles long
– that’s quite a climb.  Boats, being towed, passed
us often in the desert.  They were headed to the
nearby lake that was made about a century ago for
irrigation.  Much of the landscape is covered with
saguaro cactus (photo).   

The arms flop about in such comical fashion that
cartoon books have been published showing them
as the dominant character – Gumby.  In some
areas there are so many saguaros that the
mountaintops resemble picket fences, photo
below.  A few grow on the face of rock cliffs.  

Again, we were told that this has been an extremely
wet year in the desert with about twice the normal
rainfall.  When the rain comes it is in torrents.  So
much so that there are washes (dips in the road) to
serve as waterways – that’s cheaper than bridges.  
Also, there are a number of long bridges that are
over dry riverbeds.  At least most of the time they
are dry.  The riverbeds are wide and deep from
centuries of occasional heavy rain followed by long
drought.  This is serious stuff; just in the past week
the heavy rains have causes torrents that have
swept people and cars away.  Though just a few
miles from us, we had very little rain.  

School’s closing– enjoy the summer, y’all!
From the heat of the desert we went down about
750 feet below the surface at Carlsbad Caverns
National Park.  The temperature dropped from the
mid 80ºs to 58ºF.  What a place.  This is the
second largest cavern in the US – over 150 miles
have been explored.  One room was the size of
fourteen football fields with bacon, popcorn,
stalactites and stalagmites.  Yes, “bacon” and
“popcorn” are technical descriptions.  We spent
over three hours underground.  This is awesome!  
If you get the chance to visit this area it is a “must
ROSWELL, NM; 5/17/05

We figured the way to offset the violence was to
visit Judge Roy Bean’s courtroom known for prompt
decisions, on our way to Big Bend.  As you can see
justice in Langtry, Texas was, no pun intended,
dispensed in a bar.  The defendant really did go
before the bar.  Now you see the reason I referred
to the judge as “Jim Beam” – at least I thought it
was a logical transposition.  

Big Bend National Park was sensational.  In this
part of Texas they get about ten inches of rain a
year – and the past few years they’ve had double
the normal amount and the usually parched plants
have a greenish tinge.  Yes, deserts do have plants
– sage, mesquite, creosote – to name a few.  And
there is a fair amount of cactus.
Judge Roy Bean's courtroom
Cactus in flower, near the ranch
About a hundred miles north of Big Bend is Fort
Davis National Historic Site.  The fort was
established in the mid 1800s to provide protection
from the Indians to the travelers in wagon trains
heading to the west.  A trip would take about a
month to go from St. Louis or Memphis to
California.  The troops tried to provide a safe
corridor but, just in case, the passengers carried
guns.  The fort has been almost fully restored and
brings back the Texas frontier days.

Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico is
noted as a former community of an early civilization
with adobe structures as well as cliff dwellings,
above.  It is remarkable that any part of these
structures remains in view of the fact that they were
made of little more than mud baked in the sun.  
The government has restored some, stabilized
some, and others have been recreated.  One
section had space for over one hundred people
with rooms ranging from about 4x7 to about 7x12.  
It was laid out in a crescent, similar to some
motels.  The foundations were discovered and are
outlined for the visitors to learn of the magnitude of
the community.  Religious sites are numerous and
suggest the importance of religion to the society.  
Some of the local tribes have carried on similar

By this time you realize we’ve re-visited a number
of places.  Might as well re-visit places we’ve
enjoyed as we go on our way west to visit family.  
Heading north we entered Loving County -- what,
you never heard of Loving County -- no wonder, it
had a population of 67 in 2000!  We were in the
county seat, Mentone with a population of 15,
right, and saw no one on the street. Back in 1930
there were a 600 people in the county.  

We walked to the post office and there was a wall
of PO boxes, certainly more than 50.  How such a
village remains is beyond my comprehension.  
TUCSON, AZ; 5/30/2005

The last few days have been eventful.  We’ve
enjoyed viewing locations that are remains of early
history of New Mexico and Arizona and endless
masterpieces of nature.

Whether or not UFOs fascinate you the UFO
museum at Roswell, NM is interesting as it not only
displays UFO claims but also reveals the public
reaction to the claimed sightings and visits from
outer space, beginning in 1947.  We not only re-
visited the museum but that night as we were
looking at sunset we did see a slowly moving bright
light – was it a UFO?  It was unusually bright and
appeared several times larger than a planet.  Next
day’s national TV reported that it was a
photographic balloon launch.  

Going on, we re-visited Valley of Fires National
Recreation Area, below.  The area is composed of
lava piles that extend for about forty miles by two to
six miles wide.  On top are a variety of plants.  It
turns out that when the lava breaks down the soil is
fertile.  We walked a couple of miles on the lava
looking at the plants and harsh scenery.   
Crossing into Arizona we headed for Canyon de
Chelly National Monument.  This park is in the
Navajo reservation that includes a big hunk of
northeastern Arizona plus parts of Utah and New
Mexico.  This is the largest Indian reservation in the
US and is a nation with sovereignty on internal
matters.  About 200,000 people now live in this
area that is the size of the state of West Virginia.  It
is arid and the people are dispersed with few
population centers.  The area has been inhabited
for over a thousand years.  There is evidence that
there were trade routes before the arrival of
Europeans that laced the area from the Pacific
coast well inland into northern Mexico and Arizona
and adjacent states.  Those who settled this area
planted fields and had a stable lifestyle.  Their
homes were constructed of adobe at the face of
sheer cliffs.  Some constructed their homes in the
recesses in the cliff; you see both in the photo.  
Petroglyphs are on the walls of the cliff.  

To reach it we descended 600 feet down a steep
path that clung to the side of the mountain; that
wasn’t bad compared to climbing back up.  It took
about an hour each way to go a bit over one mile.  
The area is so rugged that one couple that had just
visited Grand Canyon commented that this area
had more impact.  We contend that each park is so
unique that they defy comparison.  

If you’re in our generation you think of  “Tonto” as
the Lone Ranger’s sidekick.  (That was a popular
radio show in the ‘30s.)  Yesterday we experienced
another “Tonto” as in Tonto National Monument
that is just east of Phoenix, AZ.  This was another
pueblo structure (above) – the whole southwest
was heavily populated a millennium before the
Europeans intruded.  In this area a number of
pueblos and other remains of homes have been
discovered about four or five miles apart,
suggesting interaction between groups as well as
trade.  Farming was the apparent source of half
their food.  Farming in a desert!  Yes, they even
had irrigation canals; the remains were still visible
in the early 1900s.  They were peaceful people,
until the Europeans got in their way.  They even
grew cotton and did weaving with cotton yarn.